Ducklings imprint themselves on their mother ducks when they hatch so they know how to eat, how to swim and what to fear in order to survive in this world, both in the wild and domesticated on farms. Licensed breeder, Robert Labrie of Townshend, VT, owner of Friesians of Majesty FPZV-USA, imprints his foals to himself when they are born. This lessens their innate fear of people. He is working on getting his process patented.
“They trust people. It eliminates the fear and flights factor that nature put in horses, their defense mechanism”, said Labrie at this year’s Equine Affaire. He had his horses stabled in the C barn and exhibited so people could learn about Friesians, along with other breeds on exhibit at the event held in Springfield MA mid-November. A tall man, he takes big strides to lead his 15 to 17 hand Friesians.
A family affair, his wife, Laurie Labrie was also present, helping care for the horses, and keeping a close eye on them.
Foals he has imprinted take only two and a half hours to learn walking, trot, and transition during training clinics he gives at his farm, rather than days or weeks.
Fillies he has imprinted, to teach their babies not to be afraid of people.
“It makes a huge difference,” he said. Two foals that he had imprinted, Wina, a filly and Wickert, a colt, half sister and brother both born on the same day, June 24, were on site at Equine Affaire for viewing. They were both sired by his stallion, 11-year-old Othello, an FPZV first premium approved breeding stallion, who was only a few stalls away to their left. While their mane was just tufts of baby fluff, Othello’s mane was long and flowing, at least one and a half feet in length.
Another of his breeding stallions present at Equine Affaire, Mathijs, with worldwide breeding rights, was born in Labrie’s arms. “I do normal imprinting that everybody does these days, but I go way beyond that.” Mathijs’s name includes a j, the Dutch spelling, as do many of Labrie’s Friesians, as they are of Dutch heritage, and Labrie had bred Mathijs’s dam in Holland.
After the foal is born, timing is crucial. Within the first hour, when it starts standing, ready to take its first step, he stabilizes the foal so it stays standing. When it takes its next step, he doesn’t help and it falls down. When it takes another step, he stabilizes that step. “I keep stabilizing them. With my help, they succeed. After five or six steps, the foal thinks, “Thanks for helping me’,” the first building block to establishing their bond.
“With my help, they had success,” and that is the first key.
Then, after it circles, ready for sleep, he holds it spooned against his chest so that the foal hears his heartbeat, subconsciously linking his heartbeat to his mother’s, since the foal has heard its mother’s heartbeat in the womb since conception. He puts the foal’s muzzle in his hands and strokes the foal, while singing a lullaby. “It goes to sleep in my arms.”
The mother helps to give him credibility because she stands with her head hanging over the both of them, giving him the nod. “The mom allows me to do that with her foal; the baby knows I’m a good guy.” And it’s not just one mare that has given him her blessing.
“Every single mare I’ve done this with, over 100 times, not once has a mare disapproved.” He has found that his method helps inure the foal to spooking, or having fear of new sounds, and sights, and helps with bonding with owners in its future, and makes for easier training.
People stopped him frequently at Equine Affaire to inquire about clinics he gives at his farm, or ask for tips for training their horses. They also offer embryo transfer, Friesian Fantasy Women’s Camps, girls, camps, sleigh rides, and more.
When he took the stallion Othello out briefly, event attendees gathered round, in awe, at the majestic carriage of the stallion.